Theorizing the Active Body in Children's Sport Fiction: A Foucauldian Textual Analysis

  • Author / Creator
    Davies, Katie Z
  • Children’s literature is a powerful medium through which meanings about the body are normalized and conveyed during childhood (Hunt, 1985; Peterson-Bender & Lach, 1990; Rogers, 1999; Rogers, 2008; Saric, 2005; Stallcup, 2004). Although textual analysis is a common approach to the socio-cultural study of the body, the primary sources include print media such as sports magazines, sport advertisements, as well as sport broadcasts, and news reports with only few literary analysis of adult/adolescent sports fiction (e.g., Kane, 1998; Kriegh & Kane, 1997; Markula, 2000; Singleton, 2006, 2009; Whiteside, Hardin, Decarvalho, Carillo & Smith, 2013). In this dissertation, I engage in Foucauldian textual analysis of children’s picture books to deepen the understanding of how meanings about the active body are re/produced and sustained through children’s sport fiction. I, therefore, employ Foucauldian discourse analysis (FDA) to analyze how children’s bodies are represented in a sample of 30 children’s books published between 2007 and 2012 and how these representation are linked to power/discourse nexus in contemporary society. In addition, I employ Foucault’s (1977) disciplinary techniques—the art of distributions, the control of activity, the organization of genesis, and the composition of forces—to analyze the illustrations. For the purpose of my analysis, I divide the sample into 6 ballet books, 11 team sport books, and 13 books on leisure, exercise, and physical activity. My Foucauldian analysis resulted in three major themes across the books. First, the active body is portrayed with slim build, slender arms and legs, often with slightly protruding tummies, and large heads in proportion to the rest of the body. Second, the representation of the bodies is gendered: female protagonists engaged with clothing and physical appearance whereas male protagonists focused on winning. Male protagonists face problems and experienced success at a group or team level, whereas female protagonists tended to deal with issues at an individual level. Third, the active child’s body is disciplined and then achieves success, happiness, and acceptance of others. In conclusion, a slender body is normalized as achieving success and happiness through disciplined physical activity. While there are some gender differences, the books demonstrate how other children, teachers, and parents, who judge and survey acceptable engagement in activity, maintain discipline through hierarchal observation. This representation is limiting because it normalizes a certain type of body as acceptable, appropriate, and permissible, which, in turn, renders those bodies that do not fit this representation, invisible. The active body is re/produced and sustained by several discourses such as how the moving body should feel (psychology), how the moving body should be (health), and how the moving body should look (aesthetics). In turn, these discourses render the individual responsible for feeling good, being healthy, and looking good as defined by the neoliberal society.

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  • Graduation date
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
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    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
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  • Institution
    University of Alberta
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  • Department
  • Supervisor / co-supervisor and their department(s)
  • Examining committee members and their departments
    • Washington, Marvin (School of Business)
    • Rinehart, Robert (Department of Sport and Leisure Studies)
    • Denison, James (Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation)
    • Markula, Pirkko (Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation)
    • Fox, Karen (Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation)